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Oct 30 2015, 8:14 am ET

'Remember the I-Hotel' Adaptation Lifts Veil on Filipino Same-Sex Love Story



Vicente Pacram (Ogie Zulueta, left) serves a Filipino dish to Althea Benton (Kelsey Venter) in his room at the I-Hotel while Fortunado "Nado" Giron (Jomar Tagatac, center) looks on in "Remember the I-Hotel," a one-act play by Philip Kan Gotanda adapted from "Monstress," Lysley Tenorio's book of short stories. Kevin Berne

Award-winning writer Lysley Tenorio had only imagined the tale of two Filipino-American immigrants in the 1930s whose lives were shaped by a racist history culminating with their eviction from San Francisco's legendary International Hotel in 1977.

When the American Conservatory Theatre's artistic director, Carey Perloff, got a hold of Tenorio's short story collection "Monstress," which contains the I-Hotel story, that's when Tenorio's fiction came to life on stage.

But Perloff didn't realize what a breakthrough narrative "Remember the I-Hotel," with a love story between two men, would be for a mostly-conservative Filipino immigrant community.

"Like any wonderful artist, [Tenorio] imagined these characters and what it would have been like for two people to survive," Perloff told NBC News. "So he imagined Nado as a closeted gay man filled with longing for [Vicente], who he then takes care of for his whole life but who isn't his lover, and in doing so, asks a lot of very beautiful questions about the nature of survival, friendship, and betrayal."

Fortunado “Nado” Giron (Jomar Tagatac, right) comforts Vicente Pacram (Ogie Zulueta, left) in "Remember the I-Hotel," a one-act play by Philip Kan Gotanda adapted from "Monstress," Lysley Tenorio’s collection of short stories. Kevin Berne

Tenorio, who currently resides in Rome as the winner of the Roma Prize in literature given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, said he was aware that his story had somewhat of a taboo element for culturally traditional Filipino families. But he saw that as the story's strength, as well.

"First and foremost it's a story about two men—Fortunado and Vicente—and without their relationship as an emotional focus, the story wouldn't exist," Tenorio said in an email to NBC News. "The setting of the I-Hotel and the eviction itself enriched and deepened their relationship, and the gay themes of the story as well."

"I think a lot of those stories didn't come out because it was a taboo."

The more common narrative of Filipino immigration to America has been the story of how a mostly male group of immigrants arrived in California. Men outnumbered Filipino women, 10-1, as their arrival was intended to fill a labor need, and not to allow the Filipinos to lay down roots in the U.S. The situation worsened when a backlash against Filipino men dating white women brought on anti-miscegenation laws. That, in turn, stifled the creation of Filipino families and left many Filipino men to live their life in bachelor societies.

In art and history, the story of the bachelors had been mentioned, but rarely seen as the main focus of a complex love story.

"Mainstream history is told and written by the dominant culture," Tenorio said. "Two Filipino men who came to the States in the '30s—one of whom is gay—would be on the perimeters of that culture which is why, I believe, their stories are seldom heard."

Tenorio immigrated to the U.S. in the early '70s as a young boy with his family after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 lifted quotas against immigrants. He was educated exclusively in the U.S., and while he himself is gay, insists that's not why he wrote the story.

"Really, that was the best relationship to write against that [I-Hotel] backdrop," Tenorio said. "I write straight characters too, for similar reasons."

Filipino immigrants in California were often victims of violence because of relationships with white women in the 1930s. The issue is explored in "Remember the I-Hotel," a one-act play by Philip Kan Gotanda adapted from "Monstress," Lysley Tenorio’s collection of short stories. Kevin Berne

Tenorio's story of the love triangle between Nado and Vicente, the two baggage porters in an upscale hotel, and a fellow hotel service worker, Althea, has been adapted for the stage by veteran Japanese-American playwright Philip Kan Gotanda, who chose the I-Hotel story from Tenorio's book to present.

"It was a world I thought I knew well, and the older men and their story," Gotanda told NBC News.

As a young law student in San Francisco, Gotanda said he remembered the I-Hotel story of the struggle of SRO (single room occupancy) tenants to stave off developers and eviction. But he also grew up in Stockton, California, and knew the Filipino-American community there.

He also knew the community had its secrets.

"You didn't talk about being gay. Gay people didn't exist as far as most communities were concerned," Gotanda said. "I think a lot of those stories didn't come out because it was a taboo."

In preparation for the A.C.T. staging, Perloff said the actors were aware the play would be eye-opening. "They were very brave to go the distance," Perloff said of the cast. "Jomar Tagatac, who plays Nado, was worried at the beginning [that] the audience [would] condemn him for his behavior, but when you put a three dimensional character on stage and they're so real, then we watch their behavior with empathy even when they don't always behave the way we wish they'd behave."

Along with the one-act "Remember the I-Hotel," another Tenorio story, "Monstress," has been adapted by Sean San Jose. A farcical romp in the world of low-budget sci-fi/horror B-movies, "Monstress" is a more modern story of Filipino immigration and how dreams don't always end up the way people hope—in the movies or in real life.

Author Lysley Tenorio (center) stands next to the playwrights who adapted his fiction for ACT-SF's Strand theater production, Philip Kan Gotanda (left) and Sean San Jose (right). Ryan Montgomery

Both plays also work as symbols honoring San Francisco's Filipino community during Filipino-American History month, and will be staged through Nov. 22 at A.C.T.'s Strand Theatre, a refurbished movie house a block from 6th Street, which is still a hub of Filipino life in the city's South of Market.

Perloff said A.C.T. hopes to do more with the community and use the new stage to involve Filipino youth, and to bring more diverse stories to audiences in the city.

For now, Tenorio, who has begun work on a novel, feels the collaboration from prose to stage has been a success.

"I'm extremely happy with the adaptation, and incredibly honored that Philip Kan Gotanda saw the dramatic possibilities in it," Tenorio said. "Given the parameters of the play—an hour-long one-act—Philip managed to craft a beautiful and moving story about two men who, in a world where they have so little, find each other. The politics, while present, remain primarily in the backdrop, where they belong."

Emil Guillermo

Asian America, NBC OUT

Oct 30 2015, 8:14 am ET

Documentary Focuses on Entry Barriers to Elite New York City Schools



"A Play, An Opera, The Tango: A Berkeley Book Chat with Philip Kan Gotanda"

"A Play, An Opera, The Tango: A Berkeley Book Chat with Philip Kan Gotanda"


A Play, An Opera, The Tango

Philip Kan Gotanda

Berkeley Book Chats
Photo of Philip Kan Gotanda
Wednesday, Mar 9, 2016 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Professor of Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies Philip Kan Gotanda is a versatile artist working across the mediums of theater, music, and film. A seminal figure in the creation of Asian American Drama, Gotanda has been known for pushing the boundaries of what can be defined as the Asian American story. 

His play Remember the I-Hotel is a period story investigating the layered meaning of love between two elderly Filipino men. The opera Both Eyes Open tackles the psychic damage on the World War II internment camps, eschewing the usual tropes of realism for experimental forms of music, instrumentation, and performance of text. Chelsea & Rodney’s Tango is a video of a disabled and non-disabled couple interpreting the traditional form of the tango.

After an introduction by Catherine Cole (TDPS), Gotanda will speak briefly about his recent works and then open the floor for discussion.


‘Monstress’ Two one acts
about Filipino history in San Francisco
The splendid One Acts are the perfect gift

for the new Market street venue.

Filipino-American spirit is the theme in the two one-acts MONSTRESS, now at the American Conservatory Theatre Strand Stage on Market street in San Francisco. The two plays based on short stories by writer Lysley Tenorio, are adapted for the stage by  Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San José. In these two world-premiere one-act plays the American Dream is well explored. Directed by Carey Perloff, an associate direction by Sean San José (who appears on stage in a featured role). Perloff's new stage for American Conservatory Theater's Strand venue, she hopes to stage all new works, of cutting-edge artists. Perloff said “As soon as I came across Lysley Tenorio’s magical collection of stories - called “MONSTRESS”, I wondered if there was a play hidden inside - or several plays. Tenorio’s tender and complex look at Filipino-American life in the Bay Area has so much resonance for us at A.C.T. as we open a new theatre adjacent to one of the biggest hubs of Filipino culture. Working with Sean San Jose and Gotanda to theatricalize these tales has been a great advantage, creating worlds of longing, music, movement and movie making set right in our own neighborhood. This is what we dreamed of when we built this new theatre”


In both works, emotions, laughs and tears are important, as well as the Filipino spirit. The first act opens with the heartfelt REMEMBER THE I HOTEL, taken from 1970s evictions of Asian Americans. This is a powerful, moving story about immigration, and trail to the American Dream. This was my favorite hour of the evening, and the acting is first rate, the arch of the characters is so moving. This work can stand on its own, it is so well crafted. Vicente, played so well by Ogie Zulueta, is new immigrant from the Philippines who visits SF and meets Nado. Local favorite Jomar Tagatac is truly amazing as Nado, the pinoy who has discovered the American Dream and the I Hotel in SF Chinatown. His performance is touching and powerful, as the Nob Hill bellhop who takes on his new friend Vince to show him the ropes in SF. They frequent a dance hall featuring the songs of a torch singer performed by Melody Butiu. Nado meets a white beauty played by Kelsey Venter, and a forbidden love develops truly affecting his pal Vince.  The two pinoys thought they would overcome San Francisco, but in time the city takes its toll on the both of them. The dance hall scenes are so well directed by Perloff, and the bellhop sequences are fast and move the first act to its sweet and tragic end.

The second act opens with MONSTRESS, we meet a B-movie horror star from Manila, Reva Gogo is the famous Squid Mother. Melody Butiu plays Reva and is marvelous and her comic timing is the best. The actor migrates to California after being scouted by a Bay Area producer. In San Mateo she tries to grow away from her MONTRESS type casting. The marvelous San Jose plays Checkers, her lover and overbearing director who is quick to take an offer to move to the states. Nick Gabriel plays the Bay Area connection, a low end producer set to milk Checkers and Gogo for everything he can. The story is camp and full of humor and includes an entertaining greek chorus featuring, Dala (Ogie Zulueta), Mata (Jomar Tagatac), and Tala (Rinabeth Apostol), all skillful in their comic timing.

The set is designed by Nina Ball, and its base is used for both plays, a dance hall, and Nob hill lobby, then later dream sets for the Squid Lady and B-movies. Ball works large arched windows into the setting that work for the two stories. Robert Hand did the lighting using the open windows to set the mood and the small stage to whisk us back to SF in the 30’s and 70’s. Lydia Tanji costumes are colorful for the MONSTRESS as she enters in her Squid attire, and the greek chorus is just as colorful. For I Hotel the bellhop red is perfect and both men are great looking in their vintage dance hall suits. The sound design by Jake Rodriguez brings us back to the era and the I Hotel sounds of the those historic riots when the Hotel was forced to shut down.

The highlight of both works is the excellent acting and passion set by the company. The splendid two One Acts are the perfect gift for the new Market street venue, that is not far from where some of these stories took place.  St. Patrick Church on Mission street, just around the corner from the Strand, is a classic filipino landmark. MONSTRESS is a great evening of Bay Area culture and experience. Lysley Tenorio collection of stories are alive and moving, and playwrights Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San José Filipino-American experience is not to be missed. MONSTRESS runs through November 22nd at ACT’s Strand Theatre.

American Conservatory Theater presentes


Adapted by Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San Jose from the short stories by Lysley Tenorio,

Directed by Carey Perloff, Associate Director Sean San Jose


Presented by American Conservatory Theater

Now through Nov. 22,

The Strand, 1127 Market St., San Francisco

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $20-$100; 415-749-2228,  click here >>


Monstress Review

 SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2015 AT 12:14AM
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Must See: ‘Monstress’ show about Filipino-American life in San Francisco (Review)
Clinton Stark -
Oct 2, 2015
Fortunado "Nado" Giron (Jomar Tagatac, left), Vicente Pacram (Ogie Zulueta, center), and Nick Gabriel (right), bellhops at the Parkdale Hotel on Nob Hill, serve a customer (Melody Butiu) while maid Althea Benton (Kelsey Venter, in background) looks on in Remember the I-Hotel, a one-act play by Philip Kan Gotanda adapted from Monstress, Lysley Tenorio's collection of short stories. Monstress is performing at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater through November 22, 2015. Photo by Kevin Berne.


4 out of 5 stars - 'Smashing'
A.C.T. Strand Theater
Based on the short stories by San Francisco author Lysley Tenorio
Stage adaptation by Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San José
Directed by Carey Perloff
Are you married to a Squid Mother?

Then, what are you waiting for, you could have a star in the making!

All it takes is some polyurethane, a filmmaking partner based in San Mateo, and dreams of Hollywood.

Such is the fate of creature feature filmmaker Checkers Rosario (Sean San José). He’s been making Ed Wood-like horror films for years, casting his wife (Melody Butiu) as the monster — “Monstress.” They’re happy enough living in Manila. But one day “Hollywood” calls. And soon they find themselves on a set in a California canyon shooting a sci-fi flick. This one had Loni and I cracking up (inside joke).

In Monstress, the laughs come loud and often. As do a few tears. Featuring two one-act plays exploring Filipino-American life, the world premiere took place last night at The Strand in San Francisco. Based on short stories by author Lysley Tenorio the play was adapted for the stage by Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San José (who makes a memorable appearance).

In contrast to the (entertaining) camp that comes later in the evening, the first one-act play, Remember the I-Hotel, is a beautiful, elegant and moving salute to the Filipino immigration story — a heartfelt account of the pursuit of the American Dream. Of the two, this works better, as the end-as-beginning story-line is skillfully told, and the character evolution more consistent.

(L–R) Dala (Ogie Zulueta), Mata (Jomar Tagatac), and Tala (Rinabeth Apostol) serve as the chorus in Presenting…the Monstress!, a one-act play by Sean San Jose adapted from Monstress, Lysley Tenorio’s collection of short stories. Monstress is performing at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater through November 22, 2015. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Recent Philippine immigrant Vicente Pacram (Ogie Zulueta) dreams of a life that might be. He hangs along the shores of the San Francisco Embarcadero, shadow boxes with his best friend Nado (Jomar Tagatac), and drinks and dances into the wee hours. Working as a bellhop on Nob Hill he meets a Wisconsin beauty (Kelset Ventner). But will their inter-racial passion survive the 1970s Filipino evictions, and forbidden taboos of the era?

Ultimately what sells Monstress are the performances.

Moving from the streets of Manila to the Bay Area (Do you know the way to San Jose?), Monstress affords us a harsh yet inspiring view into the struggles and joys — both in abundant servings — as immigrants struggle to find new identities here, while clinging to memories of home.

Vicente Pacram (Ogie Zulueta) embraces Althea Benton (Kelsey Venter) in Remember the I-Hotel, a one-act play by Philip Kan Gotanda adapted from Monstress, Lysley Tenorio’s collection of short stories. Monstress is performing at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater through November 22, 2015. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Located smack dab on Market Street near one of the area’s largest Filipino communities, the new play feels right at home in that shiny new red box known as The Strand. Indeed, the energy on opening night was palpable. A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff told us earlier this year, when Stark Insider toured the site during construction, that their goal with this black box-style theater was to attract a younger generation to the theater; and to stage new, exciting, cutting-edge works. Monstress is as perfect a proof point of that mission as you’ll likely find. As I lined-up for a pre-show cocktail, I noticed the youthful crowd felt especially start-uppy.

Both one-act plays use the same core set. I can’t see how they’d possibly be able to change it during intermission anyways. This is a Berkeley Rep style set. Meaning, it’s something to behold. Multiple-stories, with depth, and featuring three beautiful arched windows along the back. At once we’re in the lobby of a hotel, or a concert hall, then the waterfront, and soon a colossal movie set. What wonder this lighting and sound design!

In addition to the gorgeously crafted stories, ultimately what sells Monstress are the performances. Acting is A+. You really can’t ask for anything more. These actors give it their all, and it’s easy to forget that the same company plays all the parts in both plays. How do they pull it off, I wonder. I’d expect an actor, looking in the mirror, earlier in the day, breathing intensely. I am Vincente! I am an immigrant! I am hungry! I am Vincente! And, just 60 minutes later, to be playing a totally different character, one wearing a wig, and colorful, ridiculous 70’s polyester clothes, and waving a poster for “The Squid Mother of Cebu”. Yet, this dramatic shift of character is exactly what happens, and that whiplash effect, for both actor and audience alike, is a large reason why Monstress is so successful as a total package.

Just like the creature features the second play plays homage to, this is an entertaining, adventurous double bill. An evening fit for lovers, for dreamers, and for all of us.

Watch A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff give Loni Stark a tour of the new Strand Theater, and talk about its colorful history dating back to San Francisco’s silent film era.

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Monstress at American Conservatory Theater

 FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2015 AT 11:56PM
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Review: 'Monstress' a powerful look at Filipino-American life in S.F.
By Karen D'Souza

Posted:   10/02/2015 11:44:20 AM PDT0 Comments
Updated:   10/07/2015 08:46:15 PM PDT
Stardom always eluded Reva Gogo, a B-movie star from Manila.

Only when she moves to California is she able to shed the stigma of such low-budget roles as Dino Lady, Werewolf Girl and the Squid Mother. Only in the Golden State, where Lysley Tenorio's tales of transformation are set, is she finally able to evolve beyond the horrors of being a "Monstress."
Adapted for the stage by Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San Jose, Tenorio's evocative short stories are part of Carey Perloff's vision for American Conservatory Theater's recently opened Strand venue as a forum for fresh voices. Tenderly directed by Perloff, this often captivating double bill runs through Nov. 22 in its world premiere. Taken together, the one-acts don't always fit in terms of tone, but they do summon up the complex intersections of culture and history that mark the Filipino-American experience on the West Coast.

KEVIN BERNE/AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATER Vicente Pacram (played by Ogie Zulueta) remembers betters days while facing eviction from his working-class hotel in the Manilatown section of San Francisco in "Remember the I-Hotel," one of two one-act plays about Filipino-American life in San Francisco being presented by American Conservatory Theater. ( Kevin Berne )
San Jose mines many moments of beauty from the campy title story, "Presenting ... The Monstress!" This is a wild and woolly tale of monster movies shot, not on studio lots but in basements and ravines, all orchestrated by a shifty wannabe film auteur (Nick Gabriel). Gogo (Melody Butiu) finally gains the leading lady luster she yearns for, even as she loses her connection with Checkers (the always moving San Jose), her obsessive director and lover.
Still, it's a modest comedic piece, and the real heart of the evening is the epic story of the last vestiges of San Francisco's Manilatown, a one-time hub of the Filipino-American community.
Gotanda ("Ballad of Yachiyo," "Sisters Matsumoto") taps into the poetic heart of "Remember the I Hotel," drawn from Tenorio's story of the infamous eviction of many Filipino-Americans from San Francisco's International Hotel in the 1970s.
Perloff perfectly conjures up the romance of the past as two elderly men, Fortunado (Jomar Tagatac) and Vicente (Ogie Zulueta), slip into remembrance of their days as dashing young men working as bellboys in a fancy hotel in the 1930s.
Even as the police come to throw them out of their home, a patch of real estate now too valuable for working-class residents, they let themselves steep one last time in the glories of their youth. Drinking the leftover champagne from the ritzy suites, stepping out with a pretty girl (Kelsey Venter), the boys thought they would conquer San Francisco before time conquered them.
The unexpected layers of poignancy Perloff excavates give this story its power. Missed chances and powerful regrets haunt this shared past. Tagatac and Zulueta precisely navigate the back and forth between age and youth, fear and longing. The movement, particularly the dance hall sequences, sweeps us away in the spirit of the era.

"Hotel" is almost powerful enough to stand on its own, and pairing it with a kitschy one-act only heightens its impact. This is a quintessential and relatively unknown San Francisco story, and it gives "Monstress" a deep and abiding resonance.

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at, and follow her at


Adapted by Philip Kan Gotanda and Sean San Jose from the short stories by Lysley Tenorio, presented by American Conservatory Theater
Through: Nov. 22 Where: The Strand, 1127 Market St., San Francisco
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $20-$100;
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